When I first become a believer in Christ, I remember how intimidating it was to pray out loud. I would hear others pray and feel like my prayers weren’t as significant or powerful as theirs were. Some people even had prayers memorized and could recite them in a group. I felt embarrassed to not know how to pray like they did.
As I walked with Christ a little longer, I became more comfortable with praying, and I loved to hear new believers pray. I was touched by the way they would stumble over their words and share everything without trying to please anyone or pretending to have it all together. There was an authenticity and a rawness to their prayers.
Lamenting prayers are raw prayers. Unfiltered, unedited, just as they are. And raw prayers are refreshing prayers.
Growing up in the church, I had learned to pray Scripture, which was a good thing. I had learned to pray in agreement with God instead of praying only to God, which was a good thing. Over time, I learned to listen more in prayer rather than to only speak. This, especially, was a good thing. But somewhere between my trying to pray “correctly” and the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), I had missed something vital in my prayer life. I had never really learned how to lament.
I had never learned how to let go of the script and do real talk with God. In fact, I didn’t even know it was allowed. My counselor, Pete, was the first one able to convince me — in my late twenties! — that this was okay. According to Scripture, pretending we’re fine and suppressing our raw emotions is not wisdom or maturity. Rather, God lovingly says to us,
My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. — 2 Corinthians 12:9
So instead of plotting our strategy to avoid pain, let’s look and see how it is addressed in Scripture. Here’s the truth: God has emotions too, and He doesn’t try to conceal or deny them.
God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11).
He experiences grief (Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40).
He is jealous for our love (Exodus 34:14).
He expresses impatience (Judges 10:16), and none of us think of Him as any less godly when He does so.
If God used this type of language to communicate with us, why would I choose to numb my feelings when I’m communicating with Him? Jesus did not stuff negative emotions either. The Word of God does not record Jesus smiling, though I’m sure He did, but it does make a point of recording that He wept (John 11:35). And as Isaiah writes,
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. — Isaiah 53:3
For the record, I think Jesus probably had the most beautiful smile there ever was; it’s just that He wanted us to remember Him as a man who understands our pain because He experienced it Himself, and He knows we will face it too.
If there’s anyone who gets it, who’s been there, it’s Him.
Yet as I began to share with others the topic of this book, it was the people in the church who felt most uncomfortable with it. The world knows it’s a mess. People know there’s sin and evil and hatred in the world. But for some reason, Christians want the church to look tidy. We often recoil at examining the complexities of human emotion and behavior and try to sanitize it within our churches. I know this because I’ve done it myself.
Yet the emotions of God are mysterious and complex, and Scripture never tells us to ignore His emotion (or ours). If God lets us see Him undone, then why are we resistant to admitting when we are too, and to inviting Him in to what is really going on inside of us? If our lives are to mirror His, well, then, we should not deny our difficult feelings. God does not spiritualize our pain away, and neither should we.
It is impossible to move forward from pain without a healthy view of what God does with our hurts and heartaches. He wants pain to leave our hearts, minds, and bodies, but He doesn’t expect it to happen overnight, nor does He give us a formula for healing. But He does give us a language, and that language is lament. Whether we are wandering toward God or away from Him, God hears our cries — no matter what.
I think it’s often the formula we get hung up on, so let’s take a look at what Scripture doesn’t say about how God acts toward us — what He counts and what He doesn’t.
Some of us mistakenly think God keeps track of our sins. We resist going to God because we’re afraid He’ll see and know what we’ve done — things He’ll disapprove of. But God says,
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. — Hebrews 8:12
Some of us believe God keeps a record of our good works. We chart our progress and even look to religious authority figures for the thumbs-up that our lives are acceptable to God. But Scripture says that even
our righteous acts are like filthy rags. — Isaiah 64:6
God looks at our good deeds and sees no merit in them and no reason to keep track of them, but rather
credits righteousness to us. ‘ Romans 4:6, Romans 4:22-24
It’s not that our actions don’t matter to God — they do. But what God actually records are our laments! He hears our cries and cherishes our tears:
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. — Psalm 56:8 NLT
God keeps track of our pain and struggles, but He never uses them against us. Instead, He holds our laments lovingly until we come to Him for solace. God invites us to let Him into the pain we’ve been skipping over.
This is the kind of relationship that God desires to have with His children. Our tears move God to extend compassion toward us. Bible teacher and speaker Lisa Harper brought this into focus for me: “Our ache accelerates Jesus’ compassion.”* Our need does not repel Him! It unleashes incredible compassion. I don’t know about you, but I could really benefit from a love like that.
The healing process is painful. Acknowledging pain is painful! But the prophet Isaiah tells us it is by the Messiah’s wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). The wounds of Christ were painful too.
Jesus feels our pain with us, which is precisely why He is the One who is able to heal us.
When I opened those envelopes with Pete, it was like opening the floodgates to the pain I had avoided so long. But that night, I also felt God’s presence with me in my midnight laments in a way I hadn’t felt in years.
Pain can serve a purpose if pain leads us to Him.
Christ carried the pain of this world so we no longer have to. God is not the author of pain, but He can bring new life when death is at our door.
God is a safe person — the safest person! — to go to when life is falling apart. He is right there to catch us every time in His comforting arms.
God gives us full permission to lament. I had to be broken before I could truly learn this, but my heart’s desire for you is that you won’t have to. God wants your sad so He can transform it with His hope. He wants to bless you in your most broken places.
May our laments open our eyes to show us that God’s thoughts toward us are good, His love toward us is great, and He blesses us and draws near us even in our most broken places.
* Lisa Harper, The Gospel of Mark (Bible Study), promo video by Lifeway Women on YouTube.
Excerpted with permission from No More Faking Fine by Esther Fleece, copyright Esther Fleece.
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Do you know that you have full permission to lament before God, to bring your deepest hurts, confusion, fears, worries, and anger to His throne of grace? If not, maybe today is the day to begin bringing Him your sad. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily
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